Mini-Caches & Multiple Finds
By: Ron Aldridge
We are thankful for those small accumulations of coins or objects we find in the ground. They are one step toward that larger stash of paper currency found in Mason jars or that old crock of large cents that look as if they were buried yesterday. Stories of megafinds are constantly making the headlines, and many more go untold, as every true treasure hunter knows. We stumble onto a "kiddie cache," a jar of old wooden spools buried in the front yard of an old house, recalling childhood memories of hiding the "treasure of the day." A mayonnaise jar full of lightning bugs, some favorite trinkets, or a few coins that Grandma gave us were buried for a future time. Every day we guarded its location with the secret joy of knowing that our parents or others were not aware. The idea of buying things as a child has its deeper roots, going far back into history where practicality, protection, or deviousness were at its source.
Conversations often turn to finding that "big one" as we detect at old house sites. We settle for single objects, though, and become less curious and more resistant about exploring those larger signals. Most will be only a deep piece of iron or an old hubcap, but nonetheless it's a good habit to develop. We are again reminded of the possibilities after the 20th Memorial cent has been dug from one hole, never giving up until the 52nd and final coin has been retrieved. It's a success of sorts, and certainly fun, but we are probably wishing or imagining that they were gold or silver, or coins of greater age.
Other multiple recoveries are even more encouraging than digging a small cache of Memorials. We run into situations which begin to give us an idea of what it might be like to find a bigger one. Such finds may be worth huge sums, but they're a step above the mundane. An example of this occurred while we were detecting at a construction site for a new community center. The area had been a play field over the last 40 years, and prior to that had contained many houses from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bulldozers had scraped the topsoil into large piles throughout the site. My partner and I were already pleased with what we were finding, including Seated and Barber dimes, Indian Head cents, and a few gold rings. I even dug a 2¢ piece, a coin not often found in this part of the country.
Already beaming, we headed to a large pile of dirt to see what other surprises might lie in wait. A few Wheaties, newer coins, and of course pulltabs were found, as well as a round black object that resembled a small section of copper cable with a black plastic coating. Covered in dirt, it looked like just another piece of junk, and I almost tossed it into a nearby metal scrap pile. With the dirt removed, it looked similar to a plastic film container much like those used during the 1970s. It was heavy, its lid was missing, and one end was plugged with dirt, but it gave such a great signal... it had to contain metal.
With a quick shake its contents were spread over the hillside! The initial rush of excitement of all those coins shining in the sunlight soon faded as I picked up... a clad dime. However, as I gathered the rest of the coins I noticed the familiar design of a Mercury dime, and suddenly my mild disappointment changed back to excitement. "Silver!" I yelled to my partner! There were 42 coins- 16 silver dimes (12 Mercuries and four Roosevelts), 20 Wheat cents, four Buffalo nickels, and two clad dimes- in the container. Obviously, it was a kiddie cache, but definitely fun to find and another step closer to something larger in the future!
I found another type of small cache at the site of an old military school, now a private play field. The property dated from the early 1800s and, having extended permission over the years, allowed a rookie detectorist to make some amazing finds. On one particular day the air had the smell of fall, and it had just stopped raining. This was one of my "bliss locations," where I truly loved just to be there, not only because of the list of great finds, but also for the magical natural quality of the ground and surrounding trees now loaded with color. I also knew that the potential was there for another great find.
After a few hours the usual hotspots had yielded very little, and now damp from the rain, I was ready to quit. Realizing that my time to detect here was limited, I decided to try an area where there were signs of an old baseball diamond. Grass had grown over the base paths, and a few forays in the past had yielded a number of old Wheaties and a man's 18K gold ring. Instead of wandering through this area again, I decided to methodically grid it, starting at home plate, and walked about 20' toward the old wrought iron fence. I fantasized that this could be the place where spectators would be wildly cheering while losing coins and jewelry in the process.
Surprisingly, only a few Wheat cents and some modern junk turned up. As I looked across the beautiful mist-covered field, my Garrett ADS 6 detector suddenly responded with a soft muffled low tone- not the sound of a single target, but more like that of a large wad of tinfoil. Not getting too excited, but still digging a large plug, I saw a "V" nickel drop from its roots, along with the remains of two small balls of rust. I passed the coil over the hole again and the same muffled sound was heard. I carefully dug around the edges of the hole and lifted the next 6" of dirt to the surface. To my great surprise, the plug fell open to reveal a mass of coins nestled between what looked like pieces of leather. I could see a lot of silver... an old purse? The clouds parted and the trumpets blew!
Gently moving the mass of coins and leather to my digging napkin, I could see that some were Barber quarters. The desire to see the dates is always a temptation, but knowing that additional movement could further damage the coins, I moved them safely to the car. Finding my first intact purse with contents was all I could take. So, after running the coil over the hole one last time to check for stragglers, I called it a day.
When finally inventoried there were 15 coins in all- four Barber quarters, two Barber dimes, three "V" nickels, five Indian Head cents, and one highly detailed 1910 Wheat cent. Because of its condition, this last coin probably dated the loss of the purse to around that time period. I chose to let some of the coins to remain stuck together. Because this was not a small sum of money for 1910, the purse was probably a significant loss for someone. Perhaps with a little more experience, I might also have looked for signs of decomposed paper money and examined the surrounding dirt more thoroughly.
A word here on avoiding the sometimes destructive and regrettable actions that can occur immediately after finding a key coin or relic- restraint! The sometimes irresistible desire to see the date or mintmark can lead to a careless swipe of the finger and instantly lower the value and aesthetically ruin a good coin. I try to minimize any abrasion by getting the coin to a safe place as soon as possible. As much as I like to share the afterglow of a good find with my hunting partner, I have had the condition of a few objects compromised by careless handling. On a more positive note I have had the privilege of standing next to a fellow who just found a beautiful 1909-D $5 Indian gold coin. He was trembling with excitement and about to do something he would later regret. Beach sand had covered the date, and he was about to rub the sand away with his fingers. I asked if I could hold the coin until he calmed down a bit. He agreed, and later we carefully washed the sand off in a tide pool, sun dried the coin, and safely placed it in a plastic bag. Years later he still thanks me for saving his gold piece that was in incredible condition.
Another interesting story involves what probably started out to be a small early 1800s coin cache. The house was of late Colonial vintage, with plenty of ground to cover, but after many hours of detecting the finds were meager. However, on a steep slope near the front of the house it all paid off. Spread out within a small 8' square area I dug nine early coppers, including two U.S. half cents dated 1807 and 1828, a George III penny and halfpenny with dates of 1806 and 1807, probable British trade tokens dated 1798, 1810, and 1814, and two heavily worn British halfpennies with no dates. Finding one or two early coins would normally be a good day, but unearthing this many at one time was well worth the wait.
Since most were recovered at a depth of 4", a safe guess would be that these coins were originally buried at the same time, possibly in some sort of container that has since disintegrated. Because the newest coin is dated 1828, speculation has it that time and gravity helped the coins separate and migrate down the steep slope. Whether the coins were actually buried together or the result of some other random event, this was still a great experience.
These stories, as well as those of others, can give us a foretaste of what could be. We can freely dream of finding the big one, and having that dream moves us forward. The small caches or the multiple coin holes are steps in the right direction. Those holes with four Washington silver quarters, two Walking Liberty halves, or even a roll of coins may at times provide all the pleasure we need. Certainly finding these mini-caches and anticipating those not yet found will rank up there with all the other interesting experiences and enjoyment provided by the adventure of metal detecting.
Author's Note: Special thanks to Mark Jenkins and Clay Soliday for their contributions to this article.